I’ve been wrestling with the understanding of faith from a 1st century perspective for 2 years now, I haven’t gotten to any solid ground, but I promised you all some half baked theories, so I’d like to share where I am now.
The study has taken me trough 3 ancient cultures and 4 languages I don’t speak to come as far as this:
The new testament use of the word is not specific enough to make a solid definition (“evidence of things heard of and assurance of things not seen” does not count as solid)
The Hebrew word translated to faith means “sturdy” most of the time, and sometimes “dependable” when referring to promises.
The Greek word means “believe’ or “accept to be true” it’s not an exclusively religious word the way it is in English, but sometimes it is applied to which religious group you are a part of (Pharisees, Sadducees, so on..)
The Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Greek uses two different translations for the Greek word, depending on whether it’s used as a known or a verb.
When it’s a noun the Vulgate uses “fides” which means “dependable” again. It’s where we get out word “fidelity” and it’s rather directly related to our word “faithful”
When it’s a verb it’s the word “credes” which is where we get the name “creed” for our Christian statements of faith. It just means “believe” again or sometimes “think” and once again, it’s not exclusively religious.
In other words, I’m nowhere. I’ve studies the word, in literary context, in historical context, through intra-biblical and extra-biblical uses and I have “it means something to do with thinking its true that is somehow correlated to stability in some sense I don’t understand”
I have noticed that it’s not until we get past the Vulgate, into the popular Latin use that we start to see the word “religio” which is translated into the English (along with credes and fides) as “faith” meaning “belief in something in a spiritual sense of for spiritual reasons in the absence of evidence”.
“religio” if you haven’t guessed, is where we get the English word “religion”
Here’s where I am with it now:
“Faith” is not supposed to be a crutch, it’s not supposed to take the place of good reasons to devote your life to something, it was almost certainly not taken as a religious word by the first disciples, and the phrase “just have faith” would absolutely never be used to comfort someone who had a loved one who was dieing.
We have taken it too far, as a church, and as a religion. I don’t know exactly what it means, but I’m confident it doesn’t mean what we’re using it for and I don’t think we need it.
I think we could create a Christian faith, in the absence of faith. I think we could get by with nothing but the truth, and the reasonable acceptance of it.
I think if we take our bibles and we just insert “belief”, or “confidence” or “trust” in the place of “faith” we will find ourselves with a “religion” that’s a whole lot more down to earth.
And for the worshipers of a god made flesh I can’t think of anything more appropriate.
We could feel the freedom to investigate our doubts without needing to make excuses.
We could start going toe to toe with the atheist scientific community and not be discounted as zealots
Matematics,, and Philosophy cease to be mundane secular efforts and join the ranks of art and music as recognizable opportunities for authentic worship that is glorifying to God.
It would be freaking RockAwesome!
The only problem is that I don’t think I can justify it, biblically. Try as I might there is still a sense of something transcendent in the text regarding faith and I can’t just get rid of it.
I wish I could. Because I think a faithless faith would do us good.
And I’m tempted to say we should do it anyway. Every denomination in history has had some practice or idea that they could never justify entirely biblically. The only difference between this and them is that we would know our mistake going in.
So that’s the tension.
Luther said that the state of orthodoxy was akin to that of a drunken peasant attempting to mount a horse, each time he rises from one side he falls of the other into the mud.
We are on the left side of this horse representing an understanding of faith, but the only mount I can manage would land us straight on the other side of the truth from here.